Many of us, whether neurodiverse or neurotypical, have difficulty making habits stick. We can have great reasons for these habits, they can improve our lives in ways big and small, but still – we just can’t get it done.
For example, I would really like to get in the habit of cleaning up my kitchen every evening. Sure, we do the basics – dishes, table cleared, food put away – but what I’m after is wiping down the counters, stove, and table, and sweeping the floor, every single day. I have great reasons for this – it’ll make weekly cleaning so much easier, the kitchen will always be clean and ready for food preparation, it’ll be nice to come in for my morning coffee and see a neat, clean room.
But somehow, nighttime comes, and although cleaning up the kitchen would take me about 5 minutes, it is impossible for me to get myself to stand up and do it.
What am I doing wrong??
While reading B.J. Fogg’s book, “Tiny Habits,” I discovered my mistake. It’s all in the timing.
I think many of us try to complete whatever behavior we are trying to make habitual before doing something we would actually like to do. The logic is that if I can’t do what I want to do until I do what I should do, I’ll be more apt to just get the habitual behavior done. So, in my example, I try to clean up before sitting down to watch Jeopardy! In the evening.
This, my friends, does not work.
All this does is bring out the 10 year old in all of us, who says “You’re not the boss of me! I’m going to go watch Jeopardy! And I’ll clean up later on!”
Except…we don’t. We get comfy on the couch, and before you know it, it’s bedtime, and no cleaning is coming between me and my pillows.
According to Fogg, founder of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University, the inclination to hook two behaviors together is correct. But we need to pair the new habit with something we already do – and take on the new behavior after one we already engage in.
So, taking my example further, I thought about my evenings, and realized that I make myself a cup of tea almost every night. I get up, go into the kitchen, prep my teacup, and put it into the microwave for a little over a minute.
Following Fogg’s instructions, I found a step in my tea-making that I could place something after – in my case, turning on the microwave. Once I heard the microwave start, that was my signal to grab my sponge and start to clean.
And you know what? This worked! And I didn’t feel resentful, or annoyed. I felt accomplished.
Is there something you know you’d like to make a habit, but have been struggling to do so? Try using the “after ____________, I will do _____________” method from BJ Fogg.
Who knows? Maybe after making a habit stick, you will start a new habit based on that one. And on, and on, and on….